Five lab visits were sponsored in memory of Dauphin County farmer Keith Oellig, pictured left. Right are photos from the Ag Lab Visit to Nye Elementary.

Ag Lab Gift Honors Farmer’s Legacy, Brings the Story of Agriculture to Students

When Keith Oellig passed away unexpectedly in March 2021, his absence left a gap in the Dauphin County farming community.

“(Keith) believed very deeply in educating the public about agriculture as well as advocating for agriculture,” said Kathy Barry of the Kathy Barry Agency. “Beyond that, we feel that giving kids and other people access to education is crucial.”

It is how Barry and others rallied around an idea – what if the funds could be raised to bring the Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab to all five Lower Dauphin School District elementary schools in Oellig’s memory?

In addition to operating the family’s dairy farm in East Hanover Township, Dauphin County, Oellig was a Lower Dauphin School board member and Dauphin County Technical School Board member. He also was a member of the Dauphin County Farm Bureau and Dauphin County Planning Commission.

“I know sharing the story of agriculture and developing others is the legacy my uncle wanted to leave behind,” said his niece, Christine Bashore. “He was active in Farm Bureau for years and inspired me to be involved.”

She said her uncle’s passion for farming and students is hard to put into words. While he did not have children of his own, he was always investing in the lives of students, especially at the technical school.

“He wanted kids to have the opportunity to learn skills and know that there is more to career success than a college degree,” Bashore said, adding that her uncle, who was a long-time Nationwide client of Barry’s, would find this tribute fitting.

In addition to the support from the Kathy Barry Agency, the Dauphin County Farm Bureau and a donor-supported school visit sponsorship grant provided the visit at no cost to these five schools. More than 1,700 students visited the ag lab in late September and October. Four of the five elementary schools had never had a visit before this month.

“The ag lab program brings real world agriculture to kids in a manner that is educational and safe,” Barry said. “One of the biggest problems facing agriculture is that the general public often does not understand just what it is farmers and ranchers do or why they do it. Educating children via the ag lab is one step in getting the public to understand what we do in agriculture, but, more importantly, why it is necessary.”

The students built a miniature hydroponics system, made crayons from soybeans, and learned how farmers care for their land and animals.

“Thank you for teaching us about farms. It was super fun,” said first grader Austin from Conewago Elementary. His sentiment is repeated throughout many of the thank you cards the foundation received from these ag lab visits.

Lower Dauphin school principals are seeking ideas to continue the ag lab visits for future years based on student responses to what they learned.

The Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab program will connect with more than 100,000 students this year. Donors help to keep these visits affordable for schools and provide a valuable opportunity for students to learn how agriculture is important to their daily lives and their community.

“It is truly an honor to be able to sponsor the Ag Lab in this manner and give a gift in memory of our late customer. We have been amazingly blessed as a business. Our customers have always been great to us and we have continued to grow despite the challenges all businesses are currently facing. This is just a small way of giving a little back to the community that has always given to us,” Barry said.